Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau hosts luncheon for National Tourism Week

MANATEE -- The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau will continue to spend its marketing money in various geographical areas, so "you always have money from other arteries coming in," said Elliot Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area CVB.

During a farm-to-fork luncheon Wednesday to highlight the impacts of tourism, Falcione said when Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast of the United States, the CVB shifted money to other U.S. regions and international markets to create a safeguard on the area's tourism revenues.

They found Bradenton had particular success in attracting travelers from international markets in the past couple of years. Since 2011, according to a report prepared by Research Data Services, the area saw a 51.9 percent increase in international visitors, the highest increase seen across all feeder markets. Those guests stay longer and spend more money than guests from any other markets, Falcione said.

During National Tourism Week officials focused on highlights showing tourists who travel to the Bradenton area support close to 22,000 local jobs. They save the average county resident $328 per year on property taxes and their impact on the quality of life for Manatee County residents doesn't stop there.

"Tourism taxes that are collected generate sales tax that pay for services," Falcione said.

Statewide, visitors spent $82 million and generated 23 percent of sales tax.

The Bradenton area has seen significant increases in the number of visitors, number of tourism

jobs and average room rate since 2010. The economic impacts of tourism on Manatee County rose by 40 percent in the last five years, as well.

As a result of increased tourism, Manatee County planning official John Osborne said he and other county leaders are working to be proactive about potential sites for hotel development. A map available on the Manatee County website shows sites ready for hotel development and other sites deemed "generally appropriate" for hotels. More zoning and permitting would need to be done to qualify the latter category of sites.

The CVB representatives also discussed three "growth drivers" within the local tourism market; the film industry, the sports industry and the booming agricultural industry. The luncheon itself was 80 percent locally produced and donated food.

"We were hoping for 60 percent (locally sourced)," said CVB executive manager Debbie Meihls. "And we ended up with 80 percent."

Close to 10 agricultural booths, including Geraldson Community Farm, lined the walls outside of the luncheon and showcased area products, from produce to canned goods to dairy beverages. Geraldson Community Farm is across from the Robinson Preserve in the Palma Sola area of northwest Bradenton and hopes to "be a stepping-stone for local collaboration and education."

"We've capped our membership and two seasons ago we never had to worry about a cap," said Todd Underhill, president of the Geraldson Community Farms board of directors. "We had a waiting list this year."

During the luncheon, the CVB presented the recipients of its 2015 Champions in Tourism Awards. The awards, now in their fourth year, "were established to recognize some of the individuals who have contributed greatly to the Bradenton area's visitation," according to a CVB release.

Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida Operations of Pittsburgh Pirates, won tourism partner of the year; John Horne, owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar won a tourism ambassador award and Barbara Rodocker, owner of Silver Surf Gulf Beach Resort and Bridge Walk also won a tourism ambassador award.

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.